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Canary, Hand feel the heat

Bill Britt

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via BCA Facebook

On Monday, when Alabama Power Company CEO Mark Crosswhite withdrew the company’s membership from the Business Council of Alabama, he was following a pattern long recommended by the 40th President of the United States Ronald Reagan, who famously said, “When you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.”

For over a year, Crosswhite and other prominent business executives worked quietly in the background to restore credibility to the once venerable business organization after its CEO, Billy Canary, took the witness stand in Lee County and discredited himself in defense of then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard.

Canary not only prevaricated, he outright denied the sworn testimony of one of his closest associates, who said after Canary’s testimony, “I didn’t know you could lie.” Despite Canary’s efforts to fool the jury, Hubbard was convicted of 12 felony counts of public corruption, and it was finally proven in open court that Canary had colluded with Hubbard’s schemes to use his office to enrich himself.

Canary would likely have been convicted if a second round of indictments had been carried out by the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Division. He escaped that fate due, in part, to disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley appointing Steve Marshall to Attorney General. Canary and BCA have been one of Marshall’s biggest donors, giving the former Democrat over $250,000 in campaign contributions.

Crosswhite’s efforts to bring respectability and honest leadership to BCA have been hampered by current Chairman Perry Hand, who is closely associated with former Gov. Bob Riley who used Hubbard as his errand boy to pass legislation favorable to Riley’s lobbying clients.

Rather than heed advice from seven of the state’s most influential businesses, Hand chartered a course that inevitably led to Alabama Power’s departure.

Hand responds to Alabama Power’s exit by first trying to embarrass Crosswhite. He, along with Canary’s input, followed up by having Hubbard and Riley’s former mouthpiece write an internet newsletter column accusing Alabama Power of being a liberal organization that opposed education reform, right-to-work and other silly notions. Perhaps Hand and Canary should look at Alabama Power’s support of the state workforce development training program. But then that would require that they be honest, which is a character quality that both men seem to lack.

Hand’s follow-up letter was the equivalent of a temper tantrum. What a sad sight to see – a grown man cast about kicking and screaming like a spoiled two-year-old.

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But Hand has bigger worries as his dealings with Bentley’s Gulf State Park project are part of an ongoing investigation.

BCA has let it be known that it’s financially sound with a year’s worth of operating capital on hand. If after 15 years under Canary’s leadership BCA only has a year’s worth of funding on hand, the organization’s finances have undoubtedly been grossly mismanaged.

Now that Regions Bank and PowerSouth have followed suit, it’s nearing the boiling point.

Hand feels he and Canary have been smeared by Alabama Political Reporter. Like Hubbard, they call facts lies and pretend they are victims. The point is neither Hand or Canary can see their actions for what they really are or acknowledge the writing on the wall. So instead, they must feel the heat.

 

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Health

Over the last week, COVID-19 cases in Alabama increased faster than 40 other states

Chip Brownlee

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Over the last week, the number of COVID-19 cases in the state of Alabama grew faster than 43 other states and the District of Columbia.

Only seven states saw their total confirmed cases increase more rapidly than Alabama, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project. The number of positive cases confirmed by lab tests in the state increased 383 percent between March 23 and March 29.

Alabama’s rate of increase over the last week outpaces New Jersey, New York, California, Washington and Louisiana, the states generally considered to be the epicenters of the outbreak in the United States.

Of course, Alabama has far fewer cases than these hardest-hit states, which saw their outbreaks begin earlier. But all of the hardest-hit states have much larger populations than Alabama, except Louisiana.

As of Monday morning at 10 a.m., Alabama had 831 cases of the virus. At least six people have died in the state, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, but hospitals are reporting more deaths that the ADPH has not yet confirmed. East Alabama Medical Center has reported six deaths since Friday. Only one of those is reflected in the Department of Health’s data.

Alabama’s case count has ballooned despite sparser testing than other states. It’s hard to know how many people have been tested in the state because commercial labs are not required to report their negative tests.

According to the Department of Public Health, 6,531 people have been tested. But that data is primarily from tests performed by the state’s Bureau of Clinical Laboratories and the few commercial labs that are reporting their negative test results.

It will be difficult to know how widely the virus has spread until random testing or mass testing can be conducted. Shortages of testing materials have forced hospitals and testing sites to limit testing to those who are showing more severe symptoms of the virus and who may need hospitalization.

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Regardless, public health officials and experts at the state’s hospitals believe there has been widespread community transmission of the virus for weeks. People have tested positive for the virus in at least 55 of the state’s 67 counties.

On Friday, Gov. Kay Ivey ordered additional business closures but again refused to issue a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order. Business ordered temporarily closed include athletic events, entertainment venues, non-essential retail shops and service establishments with close contact.

Alabama’s confirmed case count is growing more rapidly per capita than many states. This graph, which uses a log scale, shows that Alabama has more confirmed cases per million people than Florida, Colorado, South Carolina, Georgia or California did at the same points in their outbreaks.

At a press conference on Friday, State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said he was concerned that Alabama’s case count appears to be growing faster than larger states. He placed some of the cause on the state’s increasing roll-out of testing.

“As we test more and more places, we do find larger numbers that show up quickly,” Harris said. “At the same time, we do think that disease transmission is going on and more people are becoming infected.”

Note: You may notice that the data used in this story does not exactly match the data on our Mapping the COVID-19 Outbreak page. That is because COVID Tracking Project collected their data at a different time than us. We update our charts for each day until midnight, COVID Tracking Project stops collecting data earlier in the day. We used COVID Tracking Project’s data in this story so that it would match the data of other states.

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Health

UAB to begin preclinical testing of potential COVID-19 vaccine

Eddie Burkhalter

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The University of Alabama at Birmingham is putting six labs to work testing a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the university announced Monday. 

Scientists at UAB will be conducting preclinical testing on mice of Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Altimmune’s vaccine called AdCOVID. Once that testing is complete the company could begin testing on humans later this year, according to a press release from UAB. 

“This project will be our highest priority for the group in the next few months as the goal is to get the data to Altimmune as rapidly as possible, so that they will use the information gained from the preclinical study to design their clinical trial in people,” said Frances Lund, the Charles H. McCauley Professor and Chair for the UAB Department of Microbiology, in a statement. “The expertise and infrastructure at UAB will be invaluable to the rapid progression of this vaccine into clinical studies.” 

According to the statement the Maryland company believes that if the AdCOVID vaccine candidate is as stable as the company’s influenza and anthrax vaccines candidates, it may allow “inexpensive and efficient distribution of the millions of doses needed for widespread vaccination of populations.” 

Attempts to reach a spokesman at Altimmune weren’t immediately successful Monday morning. 

“It is critical that the biotechnology industry and academic institutions work together to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, and UAB is an ideal partner to support us in this effort,” said Vipin K. Garg, president and chief executive officer of Altimmune in a statement. “UAB has an impressive track record of cutting-edge research in virology and immunology, as well as in the clinical development of vaccines. In fact, Altimmune was founded through a technology license from UAB in 1997. We are excited to collaborate with UAB in our efforts, and we look forward to addressing this crisis together.”

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Take action, lead

Bill Britt

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My wife and I lived in New York City on 9/11 and heard the first plane roar overhead before crashing into tower one of the World Trade Center. That act of terror was swift, startling and violent.

COVID-19 is a slow-burning fire consuming resources, businesses and most terribly, lives.

Any reasonable person knows that now is a time to take decisive actions, big and small.

In the days following the attacks of 9/11, our leaders followed a steady drumbeat to war, a war that still lingers.

Today, there is no one to battle except the virus itself, and anyone with eyes to see and a mind to reason understands that our nation and state were ill-prepared to lead the charge.

This doesn’t mean that government leaders aren’t trying; it simply means at varying levels they were not ready.

In the aftermath of 9/11, some excused the government’s ineptitude to detect the plot against the United States as a failure of imagination.

But a few weeks after the terrorist attack, I met with a top insurance executive who said that their company had gamed out a scenario where two fully fuel 747s would be highjacked and crashed into each other over the island of Manhattan setting the entire city ablaze.

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It was not a failure of imagination, just as the coronavirus outbreak isn’t either. In both cases, it was inaction.

Winston Churchill said, “I never worry about action, but only inaction.” Our leaders have been slow to act. He also said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

So it is again, there is nothing new under the sun.

It’s easy to sit back and critique, second guess and rattle off to anyone who will listen to how you would have done it differently. Armchair pundits and Monday morning quarterbacks are always in abundance.

Leadership is rare and only in times of real human crisis do we see who is up for the challenge.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the famous line from John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961. “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

Alabamians may not know how to shelter-in-place, but we do know how to hunker down for a spell.

What we don’t do very well is nothing.

At APR, we are busier than ever trying to inform the public on the ever-expanding calamity accurately. We neither seek to sensationalize or trivialize the news.

Daily, my concern is for the people of our state, the human toll this crisis will reap.

Yes, the economy is essential, but jobs and businesses can be replaced. Who can replace a human life?

No one knows when this pandemic will subside or what cost we will pay for early missteps, but every life saved is a victory and every life lost should weigh heavily on our souls.

The Biblical account of Job is rich in its instruction about loss and suffering. Job’s family, home, and business were all destroyed, but afterward, they were restored by a devine second chance.

And what did Job do to break the chain of misfortune?

“And the LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” KJV Job 42:10.

If you don’t pray, think about your friends and wish for their well-being.

All across our state, prayers and well wishes I’m sure are raining down.

We are all in the midst of a potential catastrophe of unknown proportions.

Yes, the government can do more and they must, but each of us should do what we can to help others as well. We must all lead in our own way.

The people of our nation and state are rising to the occasion, but still, many are in denial and they are adding to the problem.

Leadership is not an elected or appointed position; it is a choice; leaders stand up and lead.

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Economy

UAH researchers and the world’s fastest supercomputer join the fight against the COVID-19 virus

Brandon Moseley

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More and more of Alabama’s brainpower is being redirected into fighting the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Dr. Jerome Baudry is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Dr. Baudry and his lab are involved in a project that is using the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit supercomputer to examine compounds to fight the virus that has already killed 34,807 people as of early Monday morning.

The compounds under review include drugs already available with safe profiles, as well as natural products. Compounds identified as possible future drugs will also be studied.

“We are at this point focusing on repurposing existing drugs,” Dr. Baudry said. “That is, to take existing drugs from the shelf and find which ones are active against either the virus itself or can help in treating or mitigating the effects of infection in the severe cases.”

Dr. Baudry said that about 30 researchers are involved in the project, and are working around the clock. The group is studying how the virus ticks, including how it expresses proteins, for clues on how to defeat it.

“We can use high performance computers and supercomputers to look at the entire genome of the virus, see everything the virus’ genome is making and build computational models of all these proteins, and repeat the repurposing process for each of these proteins,” Dr. Baudry said.

Scientists in the group are starting with some proteins on the surface of the virus in an attempt to prevent it from infecting human cells.

“We are also looking at some of the proteins that allow the virus to replicate itself when it is inside the human cell in order to block this process, a bit like for many anti-AIDS drugs,” Dr. Baudry explained. “But we will expand to pretty much everything in the virus’ genome that can be targeted by a drug.”

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Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s 200 petaflop supercomputer allows researchers unprecedented access to solving this and some of the world’s other most pressing challenges.

Researchers have a databases about virtually all existing drugs, natural products or molecules that may not have been tested yet as drugs. There are thousands of them. Then they build virtual models of these compounds using the laws of physics and chemistry to calculate their composition and arrive at a very detailed computational description.

“Then we look at the virus’ genome,” Dr. Baudry said. “We have to build models for all the virus’ proteins, again describing all the atoms, their properties, how they move together, etc.”

The supercomputers then compute how the atoms of a possible drug will interact with the atoms of the virus’ proteins.

“It’s like doing a test tube experiment to see if a possible drug will bind to the protein, except that we perform this in a virtual test tube using our computers,” Baudry explained.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones explained to the Alabama Political Reporter, “Researchers across Alabama are working around the clock to assess potential treatment for the novel COVID-19. The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and Dr. Baudry are using technology, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit supercomputer, to examine compounds from safe, existing drugs as well as natural products. Repurposing existing drugs is a strategy that can expedite the process if a potential cure or treatment is found. The drugs are already on the shelf, why not test them to see if they can be useful? The high performance computers and supercomputers allow researchers to examine the entire genome of the virus and how it reacts. UAH’s latest announcement is another example of the brainpower we have in Alabama and our state’s commitment to combating this pandemic.”

UAB, Southern Research Institute, Hudson Alpha, and Alabama biotech firms are also working on finding drugs that will treat COVID-19 as well as hoping to develop a vaccine to prevent it.

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